A Northeast Ohio Native Helped Bring Disney's 'Moana' to Life


As a Look Development Artist for the new Disney animated flick Moana, Rich Fallat painted textures and added hair and physical properties to animated characters. In addition, he brought to life character designs by the film's art director.

In a recent phone interview, Fallat was not exactly sure how growing up in Northeast Ohio contributed to his artistic abilities, but he says that living here during his formative years contributed to his work ethic

"I'm a humble, hard-working guy from a blue-collar city," he says. "Some of my best friends in the world still live in Cleveland. I try to make them proud with my work."

Initially, Fallat worked at Disney as an intern. The internship eventually led to a full-time gig.

"The best way to describe what I do it is that I work on animated characters and I picture them as a gray sculpture made out of clay," he explains when asked about his position with the studio. "I paint and put the texture and color and detail onto that model. It looks realistic. I make skin look like skin and cloth like cloth and the metal like metal. If the characters need hair or body fuzz, I provide that."

The film, which opens today area-wide, centers on a certain Moana Waialiki (Auli'i Cravalho), the 16-year-old daughter of Chief Tui Waialiki (Temuera Morrison). Overprotective to a fault, the Chief constantly warns Moana about venturing past the reef that surrounds their island home because of unspecific dangers. Fearless to a fault, Moana, whose name means "ocean," predictably doesn't heed her father's warning.

When she learns that she comes from a long line of navigators, that realization only confirms her gut feeling that she was born to sail and embrace the water despite its potential for danger. After all, her name means "ocean." At one point, the ocean even speaks to her and tells her she must correct an ancient wrong and reunite the Heart of Te Fiti if she wants the island to avoid destruction. In order to accomplish the task, she sets sail in search of Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a legendary demigod who's essentially settled into retirement.

"When I first saw the project, I was excited because it's this movie about this new kind of heroine," says Fallat. "It's this new kind of heroine who goes on a hero's journey. I wasn't involved with animating water, but it was a huge challenge to make it look real. It looks unbelievable."

Fallat worked on coloring the coconut pirates who try to obstruct Moana. Thousands of the creatures appear in the movie, and Fallat says that "it was really fun to make the different types of face paint and figure out the technical challenges of scaling them up." He also worked on the ancestors and villagers on the Polynesian island. Like most Disney movies, the film has a strong message for its young audience.

"I love the theme about being who you are," says Fallat. "Watching the movie, it has a strong heroine and I love to see that sort of thing, and I think it's great that everyone gets to see that sort of thing. The music is incredible too. I've heard it on replay and never gotten sick of it. I hope it ends up as a Disney classic that kids have on replay for years to come.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
Scroll to read more Movie Reviews & Stories articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.